Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Money, meet mouth.

Last night, the Twitterverse was--erm, atwitter-- with a fair bit of buzz.  According to Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, the word among NHL executives is that the Ducks' recent tailspin(I'm done with puns now, I swear. At least for the rest of the paragraph) has caused them to weigh their options for pulling out of it, namely dangling Bobby Ryan as tradebait.  Like everyone else, this caused an immediate surge in my heartrate.  This season's incarnation of the Nashville Predators fits the characterization that we're all too familiar with-- our top defensive pairing and goaltender are stellar, and they have to be; on most nights, our forwards can only be counted on for 3, 2, or even one goal.  The onus is on the rearguard to make it hold up.  While this has been the modus operandi for the Preds, the secret to their quasi-success for the past 4 or so seasons, it leaves little margin for error.  As we've seen recently, a single soft goal from Pekka might be enough to sink us on any given night.  Given how much we ask and expect from him, and how consistent he is in delivering, that's not really fair.  Nor is it reasonable to have to play our top pairing for 28-30 minutes a night.  But again-- it all comes back to goal support.  We don't have it, and it's been our undoing--especially in the playoffs.

With all of that in mind, and on the heels of encouraging words from ownership and management revolving around increased payroll spending--including a quote from Tom Cigarran that promised that not only would our impressive defensive core, the so-called "Big Three" be retained, that the goal was to get the offensive side of the game up to that level as well--we seem to be at a place of intriguing opportunity.  While Ryan isn't Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, he is a pure sniper.  His lowest goal total over a full season--31, is just one shy of the franchise's shared record of 32.  His career high of 35?  That's pretty rarified air for a Nashville Predator.  While some critics would be quick to point out that his surrounding cast in Anaheim isn't something we'd be able to provide, no Perry or Getzlaf for example, it's worth noting and even more impressive when you consider that Ryan put up these kinds of numbers from the second and even at times third line, and with only second power play unit time.  For most of last season, he plied his trade with a washed up Saku Koivu and the much-maligned Jason Blake.  There's little doubt that he could maintain those kinds of numbers and bring a shoot-first mentality to an all-American first line in Nashville with say, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson.  And then there's of course the trickle-down effect of having a "star" player that keeps opposing defenses honest.  Consider exhibit A-- last year's playoff tilt with the Vancouver Canucks.  While our defense and goaltending as well as timely goals from unlikely sources kept the series close on paper, you only had to watch the games to know that the Predators were holding on for dear life.  There was little in the way of real offense because the Canucks defense had very little to "shut down."  There was no true threat to key in on.  In a series like that, it's true that Ryan's numbers may suffer--but it then frees up secondary scoring(in our Lexicon, that's considered 'primary scoring') to get the job done.  It allows players that should be complimentary--Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, just to pick two names out of the hat-- to step up under lesser defensive scrutiny.  Adding a sniper of Ryan's caliber makes the team on the whole that much more dangerous.

Now, the on-ice effect of trading for Bobby Ryan is obvious.  What might not be as apparent is what such a trade does for the legitimacy of the franchise.  The Predators have long been a bit of a darling around the league-- the little team that could.  We've been easy to root for, easy to like because--on paper, we shouldn't be as successful as we are.  But when it comes down to it, the reason that it's so hard to dislike us is because we've never been a real threat.  The Predators are perennial playoff contender, but since 2007, it's been tough to realistically call them a Cup contender.  A lot of that has to do with counting on guys like Mike Fisher and Martin Erat-- again, second or third liners on a great team--to be our primary scorers.  It's not something that many around the league can take seriously. Adding a player of Ryan's caliber adds a marquee forward to the mix.  It's a single addition that transforms the Nashville Predators in the eyes of NHL fans--including our own--into a true Cup threat.  If you look at the buzz that trading for a guy that is, let's be honest, a very good third line center in Mike Fisher created, what sort of message does trading for a true "star" player send?  It sends the message that you're not willing to be a team that relies on hard work and a little puck-luck alone to be a contender.  It's a matter of taking success into your own hands.

Most of all, this is a chance for David Poile and the ownership group to put their money where their collective mouths are.  With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town recently, the sting was still fresh to many of us, knowing how close we once came in a similar situation.  The Phil Kessel sweepstakes became a two horse race, one that we ultimately lost out on due to an unwillingness to give Kessel an extra 750K a year, according to Boston Globe writer Kevin Paul Dupont.  Poile has long preached that he's aware of the Predators' offensive deficiency, and that when the time comes, he has no problem dealing from the cupboard for the "right player."  There couldn't be a player more right for our situation.  Similarly, ownership has pledged to increase payroll--again--for the "right player."  It's time to make a statement to the league--and more important, a fanbase that's been patient and starved for success for several years.

Ultimately, none of this is a groundbreaking revelation.  If you read this blog, you're likely aware of the type of player Bobby Ryan is, and what acquiring him would do for the team.  So...what does it cost?  When legendary Preds blogger Jeremy Gover asked me to contribute to a coordinated blog effort to gauge that, we had already been tossing some ideas back and forth, and I think we've got a pretty fair offer that wouldn't sting too terribly much.  Something important to consider is that the Ducks are currently at the 50 contract max--so whatever we dealt would have to keep that in mind.  Picks and prospects become a premium, but obviously they're going to want a good, young, established player in any package as well.  With all of that in mind:

To Anaheim
Patric Hornqvist
ONE OF Ryan Ellis OR Roman Josi
Teemu Laakso
ONE OF 1st rd pick OR Austin Watson

To Nashville
Bobby Ryan
Sheldon Brookbank

In this first proposal, we give Anaheim a young player that's already hit 30 goals once, but needs to work on consistency and being effective in places other than right in front of the net--at nearly 3 million dollars cheaper.  They also get a high-end defensive prospect-- Ellis may interest them due to his connection to Cam Fowler, having played together with the Windsor Spitfires.  They have their choice of a first round pick in this year's draft or, if they want another prospect that's a little bit further along, they can have 2010 first rounder Austin Watson.  Teemu Laakso is a throw-in-- they can play him, they can waive him.  He's essentially being traded for a slight upgrade on our part in Sheldon Brookbank.

Now, the second proposal isn't one that I discussed with Jeremy, but I think it's intriguing nonetheless:

to Anaheim:
Patric Hornqvist
Jonathan Blum
1st rd pick OR Austin Watson

to Nashville
Bobby Ryan
Francois Beauchemin OR Toni Lydman

In this deal, they get a more established, but still young defenseman in Blum--with the bonus that he grew up a Ducks fan in nearby Rancho Santa Margharita.  In exchange, we upgrade our second pairing with a veteran presence in the short term--while keeping prospect defensemen that will eventually be able to take their place when they move on.

In my never-humble opinion, I think both of these deals work well for both teams.  Obviously, there are unforeseen variables brought on by things like bidding wars--but even if we needed to add further picks or prospects, I think we've got the ammunition to make a deal happen.  It's just a matter of "Patient Poile" swallowing the lump in his throat and making it happen this time.

I haven't purchased a white away sweater yet.  I'd love to stick number 9 on the back of one for my Christmas request-- and I'm not referring to JR Lind's departed icon, he who must be CAPITALIZED.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My (somewhat scattered) perspective on the Weber-happenings

Hey ladies and germs -- long time since I've hollered at you!  As it so often does, life has gotten in the way of living, lo these past 9 months of blog silence. I had made a conscious decision to blog only when an event that truly struck a nerve or tickled my fancy occurred.  There are plenty of other blogs out there that cover the  day-to-day minutiae and game recaps, and do a better job of it than I could.  However, like many others, I seem to have found my muse this week, so hopefully you enjoy the following.  I've just got to get it off my chest.

Depending on who you ask, yesterday was the darkest day in the history of the Nashville Predators, or just another harrowing loop in the wild, enjoyable ride of Preds fanship.  The truth lies, as it so often does, somewhere in the middle.

We'd be remiss to ignore the great Balsillie fiasco of 2007 when considering our franchise's darkest hour, but I'm not so quick to write this off as another minor stumbling block to be overcome, the sort we deal with year after year.  While the Predators moniker has become synonymous with dirty hands, blue collars, and from-out-of-nowhere names, the past few years have introduced a few new elements to our identity.  Three, in particular: Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, and notably, Shea Weber.  I won't get into the resumes of these three; their accomplishments are well-known and documented.  What does bear mention is what they've done for their club.  These three young players have brought a level of talent and recognition to Nashville that was previously only seen in the country music industry.  For the first time, Nashville has legitimate, superstar-level talent, and the rest of the league salivates accordingly.  Prior to the past week, the fanbase may have been grumpy about things like a quiet free agency, the selection of a goaltender with our first pick in the draft, or the "sale" of a promising young player like Cody Franson, but these are "hardships" that go hand-in-hand with being a Predators fan.  At the end of the day, in the face of these nuisances, we could find solace in the knowledge that our franchise's foundation was a triad of superstar players.  We endured the claims of "inside information" about the various components wanting out, the bad trade proposals, the barrage of  "you won't be able to afford to pay them, anyway."  We were able to weather all of that because we had been assured by all levels of the organization, from ownership, to front office, to coaching staff, that those three were going nowhere, irrespective of the cost.  That knowledge was what we hung our hats on, going into what should have been our most exciting offseason in team history.

So what happened?  We've gone from Weber's re-signing being the assured foregone conclusion of the summer to a pit in the stomach, as we look toward next summer.  From the mouths of Weber and Poile themselves, this contract was supposed to be a layup.  For whatever reason, it didn't happen that way, and I fear that nothing can be taken for granted.  There's plenty of talk centered around what Weber's potential exit could mean for the franchise.  Some take a doomsday stance, feeling that he's the latest talent to be farmed out to the rest of the NHL.  Others have a sunnier perspective, rationalizing that losing Weber can be softened by the aforementioned presence of Suter and Rinne, as well as the emergence of young guns such as Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.  For once, I have to take the hard-line.

We've been assured since the current ownership group came in that Weber was part of the "core" group of guys, that they knew what his demands were and that they were prepared to meet them.  As a fan, we invest in the team through ticket and merchandise purchase, and moreover, through emotional investment.  To know that our owners were prepared to reward that personal investment was a refreshing change of pace.  The latest turn of events is thus a bitter pill to swallow.  There's many arguments being made in the Twitterverse and Blogsphere at the moment that losing Weber wouldn't be the end of the world.  On the ice, it might not, but from a franchise credibility standpoint, I think it's as close as we've ever come.  We have our first homegrown captain, a top three defenseman in the league, a Norris runner-up, and the face of the franchise -- it's absolutely NOT okay to let him go, regardless of the presence of the other two cornerstones or an embarassment of riches in your prospect pool.  You do what it takes.

Of course, I'm appreciative of the fact that it does take two to tango.  Weber has to WANT to stay, and I still believe that he does.  The speculation is that the breakdown in talks occurred due not to money -- rumor has it that the Preds were willing to venture into rarified, 7 million+ air-- but term.  The Predators want to know that if they're going to make Weber the highest paid player in franchise history, that their investment will be one of long term.  On the other hand, Weber doesn't want to take that money and wind up the only big fish in the pond.  Weber has understandable reservations about the team's continued competitiveness.  He's seen that we've got a good foundation, that we're inching closer to being a true contender, as opposed to a team that's consistent good, but not great.  Now, he wants to know, before taking that final plunge of ultimate commitment, that the team and ownership is equally dedicated.  He wants to know that we're going to literally put our money where our mouth is, likely by ponying up to retain Suter and Rinne, and also augment our admittedly anemic offense.  Some fans are taking this as a mortal offense -- but I tend to be understanding.  Weber is a part of an unbelievable, generational group that has already racked up a considerable amount of hardware -- not just gold medals at different stages, but Stanley Cup rings.  He doesn't want to be married to a team that doesn't have a legitimate chance of winning a Cup.  It's difficult to begrudge him that, and while some believe that our chances aren't that different with or without the Captain, I'm not so quick to subscribe to belief in his replaceability.  Like it or not, Weber is a rare talent, and filling that void would be much harder than some realize or would like to admit.

So what happens now?

I don't believe that arbitration will poison the well with Weber to the extent that some maintain.  I still believe that Weber remains amenable to being with the team long term, but he does have concessions that he'd like met.  My point is that as fans, our concessions should likely mirror Shea's :  don't tell me you're committed to winning at an organizational level, show me.  Sign Suter by Christmas.  Sign Pekka by Valentine's day.  Accomplish those two tasks, and all of this Weber unpleasantness becomes another in a long line of  "Oh man, remember THAT?" moments.  On the other hand, if you don't believe that you can sign him, I don't believe you can run the risk of losing him for nothing.  If you don't feel that you can meet conditions acceptable enough to Weber to convince him to re-sign, then trade him -- the sooner, the better.  But if we MUST trade him -- God help you, the return has to be good.  Picks and prospects are of no value to an organization at our current stage.  We're in, as GMDP likes to put it, within a window of opportunity, at the moment.  Long term assets are nice, but if we're aiming to win a cup before 2020, Weber needs to be turned into proven, NHL-level talent of an equal caliber.  Anything less, and we've put a black mark on the franchise's credibility, a dent in the relationship with the fanbase, and worst of all -- we've taken a step back in our pursuit of our uniform, unerring goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

Your move, Mr. Poile.  No pressure.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Suter on IR, uhhh...yikes?

If you're at all like me, you had a hard time enjoying the majority of Tuesday's tilt with the Calgary Flames.  Was it the low scoring, 1-0 result that sullied your enjoyment?  For me, that didn't even register:  I was feeling too sick after watching Ryan Suter helped off the ice just 1:26 seconds into the game, on his first shift.  It appeared that Suter hyperextended his knee after taking a hit from Cory Sarich in front of the Preds' bench.  For those calling for the customary pound of flesh for the offending hit, I should opine that the hit was clean.  For those calling for justice, either in league-sanctioned or good old-fashioned frontier form, you're better served to look at the flying elbow delivered to the face of young "Fruitcup" Franson, later in the game. It was difficult to really focus on the game after the Suter injury, though the remaining five defenseman performed admirably while stepping up to eat huge minutes in his absence. The darkest recesses of my mind kept whispering "torn ACL, out for the season," no matter how desperately I tried to quiet them.  Like everyone else, I tuned into the postgame show with hopes of good news, only to be greeted by Trotz's typical, noncommittal "day to day" prognosis.  This wasn't exactly reassuring, given that he once similarly described Sullivan's back injury, which went on to keep him out for 2+ seasons.  Suter himself brought a little bit more relief the next day, when he told Josh Cooper that he didn't think it was too bad, and that he felt confident he'd be ready to get back on the ice by Monday.  Regardless, with gutpunching gloom, Suter was placed on the IR, rendering him ineligible to return before the contest with the Blues on October 28.

So how will the Predators get by without a guy that not only plays big minutes across all situations, but comprises part of the Predators' leadership triad?  Of course Weber is still there, but like Lennon and McCartney, their individual talents, while appreciable and notable on their own,  seem to meld into something so much more when paired.  Like Voltron without the green tiger-bot, there's a limb missing when they're separated.  To make up for this loss, the sometimes-maligned pairing of Klein and Bouillon will need another strong outing.  Both played close to 26 minutes -- the most I can remember from either, without doing any empirical research. It's also important for perma-scratch Alex Sulzer to seize this opportunity for what it is-- possibly his last chance to show that he belongs in this league.  Even with a good performance from the young German, it is probably prudent to shelter the minutes of the third pairing.  The x-factor in the equation is Shane O'Brien.  Most agree that SOB has been a pleasant surprise since arriving from Vancouver -- far exceeding the most optimistic expectations.  O'Brien acquitted himself well while playing with Weber on Tuesday, and we'll need to see more of that if we're to have a chance.  Or...at the very least, an unreal performance from our Finnish superhero.  While some could argue that it would be better to split up Klein and Bouillon, placing one with Franson and the other with Sulzer, so that no one pairing is too green, I think that weakens the entire pool.  As mentioned before, you can control the matchups that the third pairing faces, while icing two strong(or at least semi-strong) pairings.  The alternative would mean that you'd have a solid first pair -- but two shakier pairings after that.  You could afford to roll your pairings a bit more with this approach, but with Suter's injury hopefully short-term, I think you have to load up your top two pairs and hope they get you through until he is ready to return.  Just how I'd do it.  Maybe I'll shout the idea to the coaching staff pre-game.

They'd probably welcome my opinion, right?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is There Really Anything Wrong with what Lou is Doing?

There's a good deal of hubbub across the blogosphere this morning as hockey media, professional and amateur alike, are either up in arms or coming to the defense of the latest Devils scandal.  Salary cap constraints are not new to the New Jersey Devils, and their evil genius GM Lou Lamoirello has long been lauded at the master of maneuvering the loopholes, going back to the Vladimir Malakhov fiasco of 2006, and leading up to the events of the highly-publicized "Koval-gate" scandal.  If there's a way to manipulate the CBA, Lou has likely identified and exploited it.  So why is anyone surprised at the latest chapter in Lamoirello's almanac of string-pulling?  And worse yet, why is anyone upset with actions benign, if not advantageous, in regard to the competitive balance of the league?

 Lamoirello addresses press at recent conference at his lair in Hell

If you somehow hadn't heard, the Devils iced a lineup of 15 skaters yesterday, as they took on the Pittsburgh Penguins.  This was done for the sake of getting under the cap without having to make any real roster moves to replace the injured Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston, and also to allow the signing of successful free agent tryout Adam Mair.  My daily perusal of Twitter and my blogroll shows that a good many people are not happy with this approach, some even calling for further penalties against the Devils organization.  I simply don't get that.  There's no stipulation in the CBA or NHL bylaws to state that a team can't ice BELOW the maximum of 20 players (23, with scratches).  And why should there be?  The Devils played the Penguins with 3 forward lines.  Wouldn't you say that any advantage they gain in regard to getting under the cap, they lose on the ice by having to overtax nine guys, as opposed to better distributing the icetime over 12 skaters?  It's a little ridiculous to call for some investigation or amendment of the rules--essentially the Devils are having to penalize themselves.  The 12 Penguins forwards averaged  15:14 of icetime.  By contrast, the 9 Devils forwards averaged 19:41 of icetime.  A pretty substantial difference.  To further illustrate, Craig Adams had the least icetime of all Penguins forwards, with just 11:03.  For the Devils, our old friend Jason Arnott came in with the lowest icetime at 16:24.  Any perceived advantage the Devils reap from "twisting the cap" goes out the window when you examine the absurd icetime the forwards are having to take on to pick up the slack.  No team can sustain itself for very long at that rate -- the Devils are punishing themselves more than any cash penalty could. 

I don't normally weigh in too much here on non-Predators related news, but I felt strongly enough about this topic to want to get my two cents in, so hopefully you enjoyed the perspective.

Back in Nashville, NHL Preds Insider reports that our worst fears have come to fruition, and Pekka Rinne will not be making the trip to Chicago for tomorrow's tilt with the Blackhawks.  Mark Dekanich has been recalled from Milwaukee to back up Anders Lindback.  To make matters worse, Erat, Kostitsyn, and Lundmark are all staying behind as well.  I had maintained a small hope that we might take a flier on waived Sharks netminder Thomas Greiss, who I feel is better than Lindback not only now, but also has more potential, but Bob McKenzie reports that he did in fact clear.  I understand the glut of goaltenders that we're currently faced with, so I'm not all that surprised, but I would have liked to have picked up Greiss, and then shuffled the deck as needed.  Lindback could have been loaned back to his Swedish club, or Dekanich could have been loaned to another team in the NHL to accommodate an addition, but I understand the hesitance. 

On the subject of goaltenders, Chet Pickard was pulled in his first start of the year after allowing 3 goals in the first period to the Peoria Rivermen.  After a bit of an underwhelming training camp and inconsistent year last season, you have to wonder if the pressure starts to build up on young "Picks."

Lastly, 'Hawks defenseman Niclas Hjalmarsson is scheduled for a hearing with the NHL in regard to a suspect hit that left Sabres forward Jason Pominville unable to leave the ice under his own power.  While I don't think there was malicious intent, and the hit was more unlucky than anything, for the sake of leveling the playing field a bit in tomorrow's game, here's to hoping for at least a one game suspension :)


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why not Nashville?

Outrage directed at the characteristic disrespect shown by prognosticators of both the amateur and professional variety to the Nashville Predators is becoming a fall ritual for many of us. With yesterday's season-eve posting of standings prediction from Canadian sports juggernaut TSN, it should have come as now surprise that the Predators are predicted to finish on the outside precipice of the postseason, in ninth place It seems that every year, the pundits love nothing more to extoll the virtues of whatever flavor of the previous season team has captured their spot as feel-good darlings.  Last summer it was the Columbus Blue Jackets, this year it's the Phoenix Coyotes. Of course the media, like everyone else, loves an underdog.  So that raises the question: why not Nashville?  Invariably, when these ultimately meaningless rankings are published, Nashville is on the outside looking in.  Why is that?  Is it the stigma of backing a team in a warm-weather climate?  No, everyone loves the Coyotes.  Recent expansion team?  See the Wild, and even at times the NHL's great trainwreck, the Atlanta Thrashers. So is it something personal?  Do they hate us for our only-a-mother-and-a-fan-could-love-it goal song? The mustard thirds? Our neckless coach?  When I examine the teams that we are realistically in competition with from an analytical standpoint, I repeatedly come up empty.  So what is it?  What did we do to you?

With this eternally burning question, I'd like to look at two teams in particular that seem to be getting all of the predictive hype in favor of the Nashville Predators:  St. Louis and LA.  An argument could be made that the Coyotes are possibly unfairly rated above the Predators, but I like enough about their lineup and coaching that I think most of the predictions around them are justified.  They get a pass--for now.

A season ago, the Blues finished with 90 points, good for 9th place and a full ten points behind the Predators. Their offseason has consisted of jettisoning older veterans such as Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk, while replacing the solid--albeit inconsistent-- goaltending of Chris Mason with Montreal's playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.  While admittedly, this is theoretically an improvement, Halak is still relatively unproven, a good playoff year aside.  As most of us remember, Chris Mason and Dan Ellis both had similarly dazzling playoff performances, only to return to earth the next season.  Many in the media point to disappointing years from young contributors like Patrik Berglund, David Perron, David Backets, and Brad Boyes.  It's just assumed that most, if not all, of these guys will rebound.  Can the same not be said for David Legwand, JP Dumont, Steve Sullivan, and Martin Erat?  When I look at the Blues, I see a team that looks, more or less, similar to the team that fell short last season.  So why then does TSN have them at 6 in the west?  CBS Sportsline sees them at 8, just above the Predators, who finished ninth in both places.

Almost as confusing as the love for the St Louis Blues is the massive amount of fanfare surrounding the Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings came out of nowhere last season, rising above the belief that many held that would have seen them as a lottery team(further proof that preseason rankings are bunk), eventually finishing in fifth place.  While it's impossible to ignore two young stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, what else is there?  The Kings defense is extremely young\unproven, with both Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin  are both coming into their first full season.  The elder statesman, recently-signed Willie Mitchell, has had trouble staying healthy.  The Kings are best known for the offseason acquisition they DIDN'T make, playing also-ran to the New Jersey Devils in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes.  But Alex Ponikarovsky is a fine consolation prize, right?  The Kings will rely on a sophomore goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who will need to avoid Steve Mason-itis, if they are to be successful.  The other hope would be that highly-touted rookie Jonathan Bernier can shoulder the load quicker than expected.  What this all adds up to is a lot of "ifs."  Despite these questions, many consider the LA Kings to not only be a playoff lock, but a "top contender!"  According to XM NHL Home Ice's celebrity correspondant Denis Potvin, "The Canucks, Red Wings, and Kings are the heavyweights in the west."  This, in spite of the fact that the Kings nearly plummeted out of the playoff race down the stretch, before rebounding to finish sixth and "provide a challenge" to the Canucks.  Very confusing, indeed.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, I can see some of the things that might make an outsider skeptical of the Nashville Predators.  Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott are gone.  There continues to be a question of scoring.  Aside from perhaps Patric Hornqvist, there's no one that you could call a bonafide top line forward, rather a solid group of second liners.  For those of us familiar with the team and the way it operates, these aren't really questions we have to ask ourselves.  We've watched Hamhuis's abilities and physicality degenerate over the past couple of seasons.  Arnott's leadership and work ethic have been a rumored source of contention behind the scenes for some time, now.  As for scoring, the Predators have never had that marquee guy that can pot 50 goals.  It's always been a matter of getting it done by committee, and the additions of Matthew Lombardi and Sergei Kostitsyn should help in that regard.  With Trotz running a new-look power play, there should be improvement on special teams, as well.  Of course, these scenarios represent a lot of "ifs" as well, similar to what I documented with the Blues and the Kings.  I'm sure their fans believe that the lofty predictions are justified. 

The question that will continue to vex me is, "why do they get the benefit of the doubt?"

Why not Nashville?  Why not, Nashville.